The Handmaid's Tale: "Postpartum"
July 4, 2018 6:16 AM - Season 2, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Offred is sent to a familiar place; Nick is rocked by Gilead's brutal response to a crime; Emily is assigned to a mysterious new house.
posted by Bibliogeek (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Bradley Whitford! He is looking VERY different from the last time I saw him! I cannot for the life of me get a read on his character, he in turn seems incredibly sinister and yet the way he is with his staff is slightly encouraging? But also he is kind of an ass with his wife? I have no idea if he is a monster and it is FREAKING ME OUT.

2) The yellow wallpaper upstairs at his house is a direct reference to The Yellow Wallpaper, right? I has to be, right?

3) Is it weird that in an episode where a teen-bride is drowned in a pool for having a boyfriend seemed oddly positive and hopeful in comparison to the previous weeks?
posted by Bibliogeek at 7:21 AM on July 4 [6 favorites]

It's almost like the show is using Serena to give us hope and then pull the rug out from under us. But she seemed more affected by Eden's death than to her own beating, along with quote from scripture about saving children, it seems that she's on the cusp of her own rebellion. I'm not holding my breath for that complicit monster though.

Lots of bible verses in this one, or at least more than usual. But what is so obvious that it's almost like a statement about religion in real life is how the verses contradict each other.

I've never heard of the Yellow Wallpaper, but this show does not shy away from direct references to literature. So I wouldn't doubt it.

I am also really unsure of what the deal is with Joseph Lawrence and Bradley Whitford is so good at being so damn vague yet intriguing. There's a flash of all aspects of his role from Get Out.

I felt like the Emily stuff almost didn't belong in this episode, but I guess they needed something slightly more menacing to balance the slower pace of the Waterford house until the end.

So Eden and Isaac failing to run away is a hint of what could happen to June and Nick right? Is that why Nick walked away there instead of returning her comfort? It's like, we can't do anything so let's not even tease ourselves.
posted by numaner at 8:46 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to lie, Emily's story is more compelling to me than June's and I'm so glad the show is going back to it. Also, Bradley Whitford will always be Josh Lyman to me (so this is what the super dark timeline looks like).
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:13 AM on July 4 [12 favorites]

This show is doing very weird things to my mild crushes on certain actors, I tell you what.
posted by palomar at 2:23 PM on July 4 [8 favorites]

It’s so refreshing to see that Gilead is mixing up its forms of public execution. People get bored with hangings after awhile. But why do they leave the kettle balls at the bottom of the pool?

Seriously, though, I love the addition of Bradley Whitford. I hope that means we get more world building so we can learn how this economy works, especially with all of that wasteful kettle ball spending.
posted by Dr. Zira at 2:55 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]

The yellow wallpaper upstairs at his house is a direct reference to The Yellow Wallpaper, right? I has to be, right?

Thank you for this mention -- I was unfamiliar with this book and now I will have to read it. And I agree that it seems like a reference. Very cool!

So Eden and Isaac failing to run away is a hint of what could happen to June and Nick right? Is that why Nick walked away there instead of returning her comfort? It's like, we can't do anything so let's not even tease ourselves.

I thought it was less that than that he felt intense guilt at contributing to Eden's fate. All these episodes where we've been saying "why doesn't he at least be a little kinder to her and talk to her?" -- clearly he realized that himself, as we can tell from his final conversation with her. And he was the one married to her -- he may not be a True Believer in Gilead, but he knows she was, and she was young and innocent, and he believes he could have behaved differently and saved her life. That has to weigh heavily on him even if he loves June.

For that matter, June must feel her own guilt at having told Eden to take whatever love she can find. Watching both Nick and June after the execution I kept hearing in my mind "my fault -- my fault -- my fault", echoing the Handmaids' chants from back in the Red Center. I can't imagine either of them can stop thinking that for a while. But June probably doesn't feel the same responsibility that Nick, as Eden's husband, feels for what happened.

BTW, it was nice to see Nick actually showing some emotion for once!

It’s so refreshing to see that Gilead is mixing up its forms of public execution. People get bored with hangings after awhile.

It's biblical. By Gileadan standards of biblical, anyway. Matthew 18:6: "But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea."

The kettle balls just make the scene more of a warning to those viewing it. Look how many people we have done this to. We have no problem with adding a few more to the collection.
posted by litlnemo at 3:47 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]

Seriously, though, I love the addition of Bradley Whitford.

The AV Club interviewer had some fantastic things to say about this episode, and she really hit why Whitford as Commander Lawrence is so interesting:
Strahovski and Ann Dowd both do masterful work on this series, and a big part of their success comes from the fact that they play these monsters as people. Serena can be the woman who helped design and implement this nightmare; the woman who petulantly refuses to allow the birth mother of the baby she stole to breastfeed it, despite the fact that it’s the best thing for the daughter she claims to love; and a person who desperately wants to be a loving mother, to care for the baby in her arms, to give love to that child and to mourn the senseless death of another. She never lets us forget who Serena Joy is, but she also never plays her as merely a villain. Some of the world’s most dangerous monsters believe that they are good at heart. . . .

Part of what makes Whitford’s appearance on this show such an incredible breath of fresh air is that he, like Strahovski and Dowd, is playing layers upon layers. Every pause is loaded. Every sniffle carries weight. Every word cuts two ways. Even his eyebrows tell a piece of a bigger, more complicated story. Yet despite all the complexity, all the layers, he never lets you forget that this man is a threat, a nightmare. Joseph Fiennes has had great moments on this show—he was great, for example, in the big Waterford showdown last week—but I can think of no single scene in which he does half as much as Whitford. Compare only their silent reactions when they first see June and Emily in this episode. Whitford’s Commander is startled, stares, puzzles, takes the measure of, moves on, comes back. Layers on layers.
We don't know yet what kind of monster Lawrence might be, but Whitford will make him human. I wonder if the Lawrence Martha lost her eye before she came to his house.

Fienne's Waterford is really one-dimensional by comparison, but he's still very good at slimy villain. His "mother knows best" and his leering at June are stomach turning.
posted by gladly at 4:19 PM on July 4 [4 favorites]

I fully feel June's eye roll when Eden started reciting Corinthians instead of confessing and saving her own goddamn life. Like, she's horrified and feel terrible for her, but this fucking kid.
posted by Aquifer at 8:02 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]

Bloody Antigones, fucking know it alls. Showing up this hateful, rigid, judgemental regime for the merciless bastards they are.
posted by h00py at 7:07 AM on July 5

Aunt Lydia does not seem to be in punishment mode, so the cover story held, I suppose. I gather the neighbors came to see what the gunshots were, and June told them that she'd gone into labor suddenly while on a drive, and her driver had put her in the nearest house and went off for help and never came back. At that point Waterford managed to spin Nick's arrest as a misunderstanding, so they are both heroes.

I do wonder how the "ritual" will go in Emily's new posting, given that the wife is clearly not on board with any of this.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:41 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]

...especially with all of that wasteful kettle ball spending.

I was going to make a joke about how maybe CrossFit is the only Gilead-approved workout routine, but that got me thinking about how there's been no obvious cross iconography used by the show. There's no cross above the Waterford's bed, there wasn't a cross in the Red Center, not on any uniforms. Gilead's banner is a dove with an olive branch on top of a sunburst, no cross. They've come close, the baby ambulance has a diaper pin and a Greek cross (like the Red Cross logo), but not a Christian cross. Then there's this recurring symbol of a woman with outstretched arms that is reminiscent of a cross but it more evokes a sense of femininity, fertility, and bounty instead.

I was wondering if this was an intention choice to make Gilead's Christianity not look enough like present day Christianity. If they were trying to make it easy for Christians to not be offended by the themes of the show by allowing them to more casually dismiss Gilead as apostate.
posted by peeedro at 7:46 AM on July 5 [10 favorites]

That's really interesting, peeedro. I would love a close-read on the symbols of Gilead in the show. When people get screenshots, and you can take more time and notice the set dressing, it make the show even better.

Maybe Gilead is a very Old Testament Christianity and doesn't use Jesus as a touchstone. I'm not familiar enough with Biblical teaching to recognize, but does Jesus or the New Testament feature much in Gilead?
posted by gladly at 7:55 AM on July 5

In another world, Eden and Isaac would have been the stars of a dystopian YA version of this show.

I too think Emily (and, indeed, most of the other characters by now) has a more interesting storyline to tell than June. Joseph is insanely creepy, and he seemed to be getting off on torturing Emily in a much more subtle and nuanced way than is usual in Gilead.

I'd love to hear more about religion in this world. Is there Easter? Christmas? Anything? Do they care if you believe at all, or is it just repeating things? What happened to all the non-Christians, or the wrong Christians (surely this isn't some big-tent definition of Christianity). Partially it's because a lot of the worldbuilding is left unclear.
posted by jeather at 5:10 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]

I'm also super worried about any show that takes the anti-semitic shortcut of "Old Testament bad, New Testament good", which hasn't been an issue earlier on this show but verged a bit there this episode.
posted by jeather at 5:11 PM on July 5

What happened to all the non-Christians

We saw that earlier this season, when the man who was helping June try to escape turned out to be secretly Muslim. Non-Christians completely assimilate or die, if they weren't lucky enough to get out of Gilead while they could.
posted by palomar at 5:14 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

No, we saw 2 minutes of one secret Muslim, who we only saw was Muslim via June anyhow. We did not see anything significant about religion, possibly because they are scared to go too far there. But I think it's a shame, because I think they are missing some really compelling stories for more June.
posted by jeather at 5:18 PM on July 5

so we can learn how this economy works, especially with all of that wasteful kettle ball spending

Ive got to rewatch with an eye out for big blocks of cheese. Maybe he’s in charge of converting Gilead and then the world to Peter Projection.

There are no crosses I think because the Son Of God’s sacrifice (are there any Xtian biblical sects that downplay that aspect?) means less. It happens to be the way he died but it’s more about The Word as they interpret it.

I’ve tuned out the references enough that I’m not sure if all or just most is Old Testament, or if there’s nothing from the deuterocanonical books.
posted by tilde at 8:12 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

I also can't get a read on Bradley Whitford's character. I have not seen The West Wing but I kept thinking he reminded me of the father from Get Out, and that's because it's him. Which — no wonder he feels so menacing. But I have a feeling he feels guilty for the harm he has caused and is not collecting strays. Still creepy how much he knew about Emily.

The executioners who dispatch Eden and Issac are able to pick up those kettlebells and toss them into the water, and i kinda don't understand why Eden and Issac couldn't also grab them and swim to the surface. But maybe the reason there are so many kettlebells on the bottom of the pool is that they are too heavy to remove. Whatever, #crossit #wod.

I had to explain to my husband why June's milk dried up and them came back when she saw the baby. He didn't believe that was a real thing.
posted by Brittanie at 8:44 PM on July 5

Sure, Isaac could probably swim up with one, but it isn't like they would then let him go.
posted by jeather at 9:01 PM on July 5

The executioners who dispatch Eden and Issac are able to pick up those kettlebells and toss them into the water, and i kinda don't understand why Eden and Issac couldn't also grab them and swim to the surface.

Granted that all my experience is from movies, but I'm pretty sure alot of people have died by drowning being attached to something that a human could carry outside of the water. To be able to get out of the water, Eden and dude would need to be able to swim harder than the weight of the kettleball, which would be pretty difficult. I guess maybe they could grab it and walk along the bottom to the shallow end?
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:54 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

Also, I totally expected that Eden and dude would die in each others arms under water and they didn't go there which a really a missed opportunity for lurve.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:55 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

Re: Religion

It's a great observation peeedro. There is a lack of religion practicing in Gilead in general, apart from quoting the Bible out of context, punishment rituals, group marriages or the ceremony. No sunday mass, prayers, etc, which I find interesting. The Marriage ceremony is the closest we get, as well as all the birth ceremonies. Gilead is entirely focused on fertility and exerting power over women. At every turn women are reminded of their place in this society. Color coding, particicutions, etc. As you mentioned no crosses anywhere to be seen. I think it just emphasizes the hypocrisy of the sons of Jacob. Religion was a way to turn the clock back and shape society in their interest (with a select group of white men at the top).

The show hasn't touched on other religions apart that brief moment with the muslim rebel, In the book, every non Gileadean christian is either forced to convert or removed from society. Which means colonies (We saw a catholic nun in one of the colony episodes this season) or killed (Someone mentioned the deportation and murder of Jews in this thread already).

I am a bit surprised they got rid of Eden so quickly. I think there was a bit more there to explore. I would have liked to see a bit more of her struggle.
I get the feeling the show is a bit too dedicated to follow June. It worked in the first Season as it followed the book, but now I get the feeling they ran out of stuff for June to do. Handmaids can't really do anything in this world and it would be good to shift focus a bit more on other characters to flesh out the world more. Nick is a good candidate. What is he doing all day?
posted by Megustalations at 12:56 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

No sunday mass, prayers, etc, which I find interesting.

Omar and his family were going to church when they left June alone in their apartment.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:52 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]

There are also several scenes of prayer. For example, all of the women in the grocery store kneeling to pray as the baby ambulance goes past; Serena prays several times for June's baby. I seem to recall that when Serena has some of the other handmaids over for lunch with June she invites them to pray before eating.

I take it as very reminiscent of the rootless, "take what you want, leave the rest" style of much of modern, non-denominational evangelical Christianity in the US. It's a very malleable, performative, politically-motivated kind of Christianity.

What we basically never see, however, are men praying. Men are never shown being submissive to God, only to other, more dominant men.
posted by jedicus at 9:59 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]

I haven't been paying close attention to the biblical references either, but the verse that Eden was reciting as she was executed was from I Corinthians, which is New Testament.
posted by donajo at 3:41 PM on July 6

Oh, his name is Lawrence? I heard "Laurens" followed by "architect of Gilead's economy" and gave a little Hamilton fangirl smirk.

I gasped on seeing the ball and chain (haha sob) attached to Eden and Isaac, and again on seeing all the previous kettlebells on the pool floor. I don't know what I expected, Gilead has shown itself to be ruthlessly efficient when it comes to executions (see: crane hangings) so using the weights to hasten drowning makes sense, but it wasn't that.

Do we think Eden's death and the realization that "shit, I have a daughter now and this is the world we created for her" will finally be what brings Serena Joy to the "burn it all down" side? She seemed legitimately traumatized and soul-searching in the final scene.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:35 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Really enjoyed this episode.

First, totally agree with jeather that Eden and Isaac would be the stars of a dystopian YA version of this show. And it would be on the CW. And it would not shy away from LizBoBiz's note about them not having died in one another's arms.

Second, I loved The West Wing. Seeing Bradley Whitford in Gilead is freaking me out the way the Peters' Projection Map freaked out CJ. (And Josh.) I cannot wait to see what happens with him and his wife and Emily.

Third, one of the really interesting things to me about this episode was that they were found in violation of a passage of Exodus. Now I'm not particularly religious, but this implies to me that whoever created Gilead wasn't just "Christian" (and I use that term loosely), but Old Testament Christian. The discussion in this thread, especially what gladly was saying, has me thinking about whether or not we've seen any New Testament stuff (barring Eden's Corinthians passage) in Gilead thus far? The Ritual reading is from Genesis, apparently. Anyone know for sure about other references? It'd be interesting to see if all of Gilead's stuff is drawn exclusively from the Old Testament or not -- jeather makes an interesting point about the implications of demonizing Old Testament stuff because it's been appropriated by Gilead.

Also, I had never noticed the lack of crosses or lack of men praying. Thanks, peeedro and jedicus!
posted by juliebug at 9:28 PM on July 8

I did search through the script for this episode, and Eden and Serena both quoted Isaiah, Eden quoted Corinthians, and the executioner quoted Exodus. So . . . unclear, I'd need to do a deeper dive into all the biblical quotes in this show, and unless I can google it, I'm not going to. (I will pay attention for the finale, though.)
posted by jeather at 8:24 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

Did I miss something about an explanation for what happened to Nick when he was hauled off and tased?
posted by desuetude at 7:55 AM on July 12

It was a very casual "oh it was just a misunderstanding!" statement from Fred.
posted by numaner at 2:39 PM on July 12

I caught that "misunderstanding" line, but I was super distracted waiting for more. I hope it is explained in the next episode? It was clear there was a coverup but WHAT HAPPENED, YO? I mean, clearly when Fred and Serena showed up and argued in the house, they did NOT know what happened to Nick.
posted by desuetude at 10:17 PM on July 12

I took the next line that Fred said, "I appreciate your discretion" to mean that they covered everything up in the usual way, and the details don't matter at this point. For all his rebelliousness Nick is still good at doing what the Commanders need him for, which is to keep things quiet when they need to be.
posted by numaner at 12:28 PM on July 13

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